The Uganda Medical Intern question
The scene of striking public servants is not a rare occurrence especially by those in the education and health sector. However, with band aid promises, that continue to plague the sectors calm returns only to resume amid the unfulfilled promises. 31st August was no different, after pleas by prospective interns fell on deaf ears, they took to the streets and ended up at the Parliament CHOGM grounds in an attempt to meet the Speaker, who was unfortunately away on business. Well, the interns had quite a number of things to say. High on the agenda was ‘No to the proposed pre-internship exam, no to the bondage by government after completion, increase in payment to UGX 1.2 million up from 600,000…’ Contrary to their demands, the interns vowed to carry out mass industrial action.
Every individual has the human right to health; the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes access to all medical services, sanitation e.t.c. Medical personnel in their capacity also have their labour rights or workers’ rights. So, this begs the question : where do we draw the delicate balance to ensure all parties fully enjoy their rights?
To put this into perspective, here are some relevant facts about Uganda’s health sector. The country is ranked 186th out of 191 nations as having the worst health care, only 38% of healthcare posts are filled in Uganda, 70% of Ugandan doctors and 40% of nurses and midwives are based in urban areas, serving only 12% of the Ugandan population, and the medical personnel in government hospitals are one of the worst remunerated. With all this, one can’t help but wonder what doom looms over Ugandans who cannot access medical care, emphasis on the 80% dwelling in rural areas or the 19.5% that live below the poverty line.
Bonding infringes on the interns’ rights, the right to choose where and where not to work, the latter in this case is obviously government run facilities which are marred with the generic impediments, of no or late pay, long work hours, poor conditions. Medical students on government are beneficiaries from a crosscutting government policy one that rewards students, who have excelled at University. Why then is bonding tailored for only medical interns?
Continuation of such tendencies has only exacerbated by government’s reluctance to dialogue as equal partners with the aggrieved parties does not, in anyway benefit the common man. From a moralist point of view I tend to empathize with the Ugandan that is the most down trodden in this scenario cognizant of the fact that the government officials that make these policies receive their health care from private local facilities or abroad with the very taxpayer’s money, a tax payer whose only option is that rundown facility. Then again, I struggle with logic that the doctors need to get paid, and really well because of the kind of work and environment within which they work.
The court interim order blocking the new policies comes at a time when both interns and the general public are desperate for a solution. However, for either party to enjoy their rights government ought to rethink its strategies on solving health sector issues like the doctor shortages, access to hard to reach areas, constant brain drain.